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Donna McKechnie: Inside the Music 
Reviewed By Wenzel Jones, Back Stage West

If the last time you saw Donna McKechnie was on the album cover of A Chorus Line, then you can be forgiven the assumption that the elegant sylph who ascends to the stage with the musicians is she. It is not. It is Colony producer Barbara Beckley--who, may we say, delivers her curtain speech in a performance we found gracious and droll. The real McKechnie is a curvaceous powerhouse who leans more toward the sincere than the ironic, rather a surprise in a show scripted by Ivy League bad boy Christopher Durang. The evening is autobiographical, and the outline is as follows: McKechnie was a childhood escapist who, while seeking love from the world, followed her heart, not her head, which got her to Broadway and then to the therapist's couch. It is in the details where the joys of this show lie.

Backed by the consummate trio of Tom Griffin on piano, Dana Decker on bass, and Tom Bowe on drums, McKechnie sings and dances through two solid hours of personal as well as Broadway history. The former is surprisingly vague. Three numbers are devoted solely to the results of choosing men unwisely but what was so specifically unwise is never alluded to. Her marriage to dancer/choreographer Michael Bennett is given such short shrift that it comes off as--and I'm paraphrasing here--"We were married briefly and then we weren't." The second act, however, is packed with specifics, dealing with her life as a performer. From her beginnings as a winsome chorus girl in How To Succeed..., she worked with the best, and she has stories, none of them unflattering, about them all. (If you want wicked tales of rampant stage ego, you'll need to go Downtown to catch McKechnie's Company co-star, Elaine Stritch, in her one-woman show.)

McKechnie has an endearing way of never just walking when she can turn it into a dance step, thus getting the most possible use out of the lovely frocks Scott A. Lane provides. Director Thommie Walsh has done a very nice job with the pacing; no watches were observed being surreptitiously viewed as the show passed the 90-minute mark. The lighting (Robert L. Smith) is effective but never distracting, and Lawrence Miller's set at first appears to be a Zen study, notable primarily for its absence. The final reveal for McKechnie's signature number from A Chorus Line brings goosebumps and applause, and the performance makes clear just what the intrinsic magic is that makes her a star. As my companion, jaded by decades in the trenches of musical theatre, put it, "You gotta love that shit."


 
 

Copyright 2003 VNU eMedia (Back Stage West) 
Reprinted by Permission 
Donna McKechnie: Inside the Music at the Colony Theatre